Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Halsey's Typhoon by Bob Drury & Tom Clavin

First Line from Preface: Chief Quartermaster Archie DeRyckere was more astonished than frightened.
Even the most popular and victorious admiral in the U.S. Navy can make mistakes. Charged with defending General MacArthur's flank during the invasion of the Philippine island of Mindoro with his 30,000-man Third Pacific Fleet, Admiral William "Bull" Halsey attempted a complicated refueling maneuver and sailed 170 ships straight into the teeth of a massive typhoon.
Men and ships found themselves battling 90-foot waves and 150 mph winds. Three ships were sunk, and almost 900 sailors and officers were swept into the Philippine Sea. For three days, survivors battled the weather, dehydration, exhaustion, and sharks. Ultimately, it was up to Lieutenant Commander Henry Lee Plage to defy orders and sail the badly damaged USS Tabberer back into the storm to rescue the drifting sailors.
I would imagine the first question is why this crime fiction lover chose to read a book about a tragedy at sea during World War II. The answer is simple: my grandfather. My grandfather served in the US Navy aboard an LST in the South Pacific during World War II. He drove landing craft up on the beachheads and also served as an anti-aircraft gunner. He was very tight-lipped about his service, only mentioning three things. One of them was being caught in a typhoon and how everyone aboard was well beyond being merely seasick. When I read the synopsis of Halsey's Typhoon, I wondered if this could be the typhoon my grandfather mentioned. 

When I finished reading the book, I did a little research and compared some dates. This wasn't the typhoon my grandfather mentioned, and for that, I am eternally thankful. What I couldn't foresee was how emotionally involved I would be as I read Halsey's Typhoon. Of course, I learned things. What makes a typhoon in the Pacific deadlier than a hurricane in the Atlantic. How ships were refueled at sea. I learned about ship design and how retro-fitting some of the old destroyers in the Pacific Third Fleet sealed their doom during the typhoon. (Stay away from top-heavy ships.) I also gained respect for a future president who survived this tragedy.
Authors Bob Drury and Tom Clavin gave us readers Halsey's background, they set the scene, they let the typhoon bludgeon us then cast us adrift in rough seas with no water and no protection from the sharks before letting us be rescued. Reading this book was sometimes exhausting. I was completely emotionally invested in Halsey's Typhoon. I grew to know the men, to care about what happened to them. I was a nervous, seasick wreck during the horrendous typhoon. I cried as the ships sank and men-- most of them barely out of their teens-- desperately tried to save themselves. And my heart swelled when the commander of the badly damaged USS Tabberer defied orders in order to continue to search for and rescue survivors. As far as I'm concerned, there would never be enough medals to give Lieutenant Commander Henry Lee Plage. 

When all is said and done, what was at the heart of this hushed-up disaster? I think it can be summed up in one sentence from the book: "Meteorology was not high on the U.S. Navy's list of wartime priorities." That is not wise when you're responsible for thousands of men aboard hundreds of ships traveling vast expanses of water that are at the mercy of the weather.
Halsey's Typhoon is a brilliantly written piece of wartime naval history that reads like the best fiction. I couldn't put it down. 

Halsey's Typhoon: The True Story of a Fighting Admiral, an Epic Storm, and an Untold Rescue 
eISBN: 9781555846299
Atlantic Monthly Press © 2007
eBook, 414 pages
Non-Fiction, Standalone
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


  1. It sounds like a rich, thoughtful, and well-written discussion of Halsey and what happened, Cathy! And I'm so happy you found that connection to understanding your own family history, too, even if this wasn't the same storm your grandfather experienced. What a fascinating way to learn history! No wonder you couldn't put it down.

    1. Yes, it might not have been the typhoon my grandfather experienced, but it certainly gave me an idea of what he and his shipmates went through.

  2. Your telling of your experience was great, Cathy. I enjoyed reading your thoughts about the book. Probably not one I'll read, but who knows? My father didn't say much about his WWII years, but he was a young man on a ship (he was Army) going to the Pacific on his 19th birthday. He spent time in the Philippines and also in New Guinea. He never ate bananas that I remember. Said he had to eat green bananas in the jungle and they made him very ill.

    1. After life with my grandfather, it's always been my belief that people who chatter on and on about their military service are the ones who weren't in the thick of things.

  3. It's certainly understandable that this story was particularly emotional for you considering your own family history. When we read such stories it can often seem a miracle that anyone involved in a war ever manages to survive.

  4. I enjoy maritime nonfiction about the Age of Sail (a direct result of the impact of reading In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick), with a preference for exploration. As a result, I have not read much about WWII naval battles, or ships not powered by sails. This sounds like the right book to fill that gap in my reading.

    1. One of my all-time favorite books is Sea of Glory by Philbrick, and Joan Druett has written several fascinating books about the age of sail...Hen Frigates and She Captains being two that immediately come to mind. Druett has also written a mystery series with the sleuth being on board one of he ships talked about in Philbrick's Sea of Glory.

  5. Nonfiction that reads like fiction is my favorite type of nonfiction. I have a lot of respect for men and women who spend large parts of their life on the sea. I couldn't do it, but I am so glad there are those who serve our country this way.


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